Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pill Popping in Beijing

Oh, how the tides have turned. Somehow, halfway through my China travels, I picked up a nasty bug that had me writhing in pain with a 101 degree fever, body aches, and stomach pains. I'm still unsure whether it was eating that $1.50 lunch in a dive on the street with no electricity and the flies buzzing, or the intense heat exposure in Zhongdian at 9,000 feet above sea level, or just bad luck. Shepherd ate and journeyed everywhere I did and is fine, but then again, he did live here for most of his life.

Luckily, after losing a day to (miserable) air travel, and another day and a half to pure rest and eating nothing but crackers, water, Tums, and Ibuprofen, all of the symptoms are gone except the intense stomach pains and unsightly related stomach symptoms. This morning, we stopped by a drug store to buy some medicine, and after Shepherd explained the symptoms, they gave me some drug they claimed everyone in China takes and is best. Unfortunately, after a day of dosing, things didn't seem to be getting any better. I looked online (which, by the way, is getting quite trying with Wikipedia banned in China), and found the drug, Berberine Hydrochloride, to apparently be rather useless.

So, after 2 and a half days of unsuccessfully sleeping it off, I went back to the drug store tonight armed with a list of possible Western medications I found on the Internet -- the active ingredients in Immodium AD and Pepto Bismol, and three different antibiotics that could be used to kill whatever's in my system.

At this point, Shepherd was out getting dinner with a friend, so I went it alone... and when I got to the drug store the lights were off and they were closing up. I ran in and showed them my paper list and pleaded with them to help, at which point 20 minutes of me searching for English drug names on Chinese boxes and 4 women yelling in Chinese pursued. They'd drag me over to the Chinese medicine area, and I'd pull them back to the Western medicine. Finally, I found a box of Norfloxacin, and gave up on the rest of the list. The antibiotics cost me less than $1.50 US.

So alas, my trip to Beijing thus far has been less than stellar. Hopefully, I'll kick this tomorrow and venture out to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, and then the Great Wall Thursday.

On a lighter note, the trip from Lijiang to Zhongdian (before we flew to Beijing) was pretty sweet. We hitched a ride with a tour bus (all Chinese tourists) and made friends with a bunch of fun people. When we stopped to eat after visiting the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a few of them invited us to eat lunch with them, and then insisted on buying -- telling me "Welcome to China!" as we left the restaurant. It was a quite welcoming gesture. As for the geek in me, I noticed one girl on the bus had a Dopod (HTC) Chinese Windows Mobile phone which looked pretty slick, and when we exchanged contact information, they asked for my "MSN" (now "Windows Live") Messenger, and for my MySpace! That said, they said MSN is losing mindshare to QQ -- apparently a better service here. I googled for it and wanna read that first damn Wikipedia article, but alas, no Wikipedia for me!

Zhongdian itself was a bit lackluster. We visited an amazing Tibetan Buddhist template, but the commercialization of it dissapointed me. Outside the temple you get offered to take a picture on a sad-looking Chinese cow. After you buy your ticket and enter the wall around the template area, you're then offered to take pictures with brightly clothed kids and their pet dogs and lambs as you climb steeps stairs at 9,000 feet. Then, perhaps most annoyingly, when inside moving between rooms, you're told you must buy additional tickets. The truth of the matter is that I'm happy to donate the cost of all the tickets and additional donations (maybe $10 US total) or more to their temple, which I assume serves the community quite well, but being milked for money by kids who should instead be in school wasn't cool.

Anyhow, time to call it quits for the evening.

"Wan an" :-)

Saturday, May 26, 2007


It's been a week since I arrived in China with my friend Shepherd. It's an amazing country, and backpacking through it has been quite the experience so far.

I'm currently sipping on green tea while sitting at a cafe in Lijiang, an incredible city in the beautiful Yunnan province. Above the computer reads a sign, "intel net Y5/hour", which translates to Internet, 65 cents/hour. There's very little English to be found here (even Blogger is entirely in Chinese with no "English" link to be found), and the attempted translations on both homemade and official signs continue to give me a little chuckle. With Shepherd's help, my Mandarin has been improving exponentially.

We started off in Hong Kong, by way of Tokyo. Hong Kong was as I had seen on TV and in movies and had read about. The best way I can think to describe the city is bustling up close and beautiful from afar. We hiked through the city all the way from the water up to as close to the peak as one can get on foot. The mid-levels of the city have a one-way escalator (I had seen once on the Travel Channel), which changes direction based on the time of day. Of course, we were going up during rush hour when most are going down, so we instead climbed hundreds if not thousands of stairs. It was an amazing trek, with lots to see (and take pictures of!) along the way.

We then took the ferry over to Kowloon, and had lunch with an amazing view of Hong Kong island's skyscrapers disappearing into the clouds above, with its green mountains in the background. We did some shopping, and at night ventured out into the quite Westernized Lan Kwai Fun district which was one big party of ex-pats and foreign tourists.

After two nights in Hong Kong, we took a train into mainland China, passing Shenzhen and arriving in Guangzhou, Shepherd's home city. The train was my first opportunity to see "real China", and I was incredibly surprised by the scale of just about everything and the level to which the country is developed. One must keep in mind that china is massive, with something like 1.2 billion people. Everything here is done on a massive scale. While apartment buildings in the US have perhaps tens or hundreds of units, buildings here have thousands, often with up to half a dozen matching towers. While washing machines have arrived, dryers largely have not, and it's interesting to see people hanging clothes to dry off the 30+ floors (and to see this on every floor of the buildings). Thiefs in China also apparently climb buildings, so even units on such high floors sometimes have bars covering the windows!

Guangzhou was certainly one of the highlights of my trip thus far, primarily because we spent 3 nights living with Shepherd's family. When asked, I said I did not have any dietary restrictions and wanted to eat whatever they ate, and all the food I got to try was absolutely amazing. Shepherd's Mom made some fantastically tasty dinners, and we had by far the best Dimsum for breakfast that I have had to date. Guangzhou is in Canton where Cantonese is spoken over Mandarin, and unlike Hong Kong, it's rare to encounter people who speak much English (outside of perhaps the business/academic circles). So, I learned a few important words in Cantonese (along the lines of "Thank you", and "Yep!"), dropped a few words in Mandarin here and there, and otherwise let Shepherd and his family do the talking for me.

The size of Guangzhou was like nothing I have ever seen before in a city (and I'm from Los Angeles). One can drive hours in any direction and continue to be surrounded by huge towers. The polution is problematic, but once we escaped from the city to visit some beautiful gardens, the air quality improved drastically. Two things I began to notice while in Guangzhou were 1) how apparent China's emerging middle class is and 2) how great of an effort the government (at multiple levels) is putting in to improving the quality of life -- from city infrastructure to the environment. I had heard about the former, but the latter especially surprised me (and would continue to be apparent, especially with respect to the environment, as we traveled to Lijiang). Guangzhou has a beautiful, relatively new subway system, highly developed infrastructure (water, power, phone, mobile, internet), taxis are full at rush hour, teens chat on their cell phones while shopping at the malls which have AMC-like movie theaters inside, etc. China's middle class is supposedly numbered at roughly 300 million people -- the size of the entire United States.

In any event, after spending three nights with Shepherd's family, and meeting some of his friends from back home, we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Lijiang, by way of Yunnan's capital city of Kunming. Like everything else in Guangzhou, its airport was massive. To board our China Southern flight, we had to hop on a shuttle bus at the gate, which we assumed would take us out to a stairway at the plane (despite very modern jetways). Surprisingly, it took us all the way to another wing of the massive airport where we re-entered and boarded through a jetway. The wing seemed connected, so nobody was sure exactly what was up with the shuttle bus. :)

When we touched down in Lijiang, we hopped on a very nice bus that played Chinese pop music videos (with lyrics for Kareoke -- or "Kuh-lee-oh-kuh" in Mandarin) and took us into the city, where we took a short cab and met our hostel/guest house host, who, like everyone else in Lijiang, has been incredibly friendly and helpful. We picked out a nice room with wooden walls, 2 beds, and a private bathroom, which is costing us about $10 (US)/night, or $5 each. Did I mention everything here is insanely inexpensive? Things like bottled water, ice cream, and coke cost about 25-50 cents. Today, we had very tasty and filling Sezchuan pork noodle soup bowls (homemade noodles) for lunch that together cost us less than $1.50. And they're building very beautiful new homes in the newer areas of Lijiang which sell for about $50,000 -- a very tempting proposition (apparently, other foreigners -- Chinese and not -- are indeed buying).

The old city of Lijiang has certainly been another highlight of the trip. It is incredibly peaceful, with beautiful traditional Chinese architecture dating back many hundreds of years. Even new buildings are built with the same style of architecture, which I hope will help preserve at least some of the feeling as it continues to transform into quite the tourist destination. Interestingly, most of the tourism to Lijiang is now Chinese (again, signs of emerging middle class market?), whereas 10-20 years ago it was almost entirely foreign travelers. At night, the streets of Lijiang are lit up with hundreds of red lanterns, and rivers/waterfalls run alongside and under the streets, which are filled with shops and bustling nightclubs. Last night, we saw a performance of singing and dancing by local Naxi people, whose culture and history have become the pride and joy of the city.

The views in Lijiang, during the day and at night, are staggering. Today, we hired a guide with a car to take us outside the city to some of the local sites (about $15 for the entire day). We visited some sites that highlight the history of the Naxi people, a beautiful temple, gardens, and ended the day by going horseback riding through the wilderness. The temperature has been consistently in the 70s, sunny, and hardly humid. It's clear the government is doing a lot to preserve Lijiang while also building it into more and more of a tourist destination. Today, I asked our guide, a Naxi woman with 13 generations of history in Lijiang (who works in the tourism industry), what she thought of the local tourist economy. She didn't like it, and instead preferred the older days where even though people had less, neighbors would help each other more and were less corrupted by the new money. The old city, where people used to live, has turned into a collection of small hotels and shops geared towards tourists. To improve the environment, local people can no longer wash their laundry in the rivers that run through the city -- good or bad? You tell me.

Well, after checking email and jotting down these blog notes, the evening lights and lanterns have been illuminated at the intelnet cafe, and my 65 cent hour is long past up. Shepherd and I are off to get some "Chifan" (dinner), then perhaps "yi ping pijou" (a beer) or two, and then back to sleep to rest up for our journey to the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Zhongdian (recently renamed Shangri-La by the government to increase tourism) tomorrow.

Zai jien!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

T-7 Days To China

I'm getting really excited about my upcoming trip to China. I've been eager to visit for years, and can't wait to get there (read: it's gonna be a long week at the office!)

I received my PhotoTrackr in the mail (the first hardware product to get a Supr Flickr infused r name?). It's a sweet little device. Immediately locked on to gps signals from my patio, and logs its location to memory every 5 seconds. It's smart too - goes to sleep when it stops moving, and wakes back up when it senses vibration. When I plug it into my PC, it plots my path on a Google Map, and tags any photos I took with the location I was at when I took them (based on timestamp metadata). Definitely plan to strap it onto my backpack in China, and can't wait to whip together an app myself that consumes the data sometime after I get back.

My trip to China is as follows:

Hong Kong (pics) - Friend and I arrive and spend 3 nights in a hostel we found on hostelworld.com. Then take a bus to Guangzhou.

Guangzhou (pics) - Crash at my friend's family's home for 2 nights. Fly to Yunnan.

Yunnan (pics) - Arrive in Lijiang (pics) and spend 3 days/nights exploring Southwest China's Yunnan province. Figure out what cities/hotels to sleep in when we get there. Just know we need to get to Zhongdian (pics) by bus/train to fly out 3 days later to Beijing by way of Kunming (pics).

Beijing (pics) - Spend 4 days/nights exploring Beijing. Sleeping at another hostel we found on hostelworld.com. Hopefully meeting up with a friend who used to work for Microsoft in Redmond/Beijing and now works for a Chinese startup.

Any backpacking/china advice is welcome. I've never done either before. :-)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

New Addictions

Came back from MIX fiercely addicted to Twitter and Facebook Mobile. Cracked open my laptop in bed this morning, skimmed my Twitter friends RSS feed, and found out a Twitter Mobile launched too. Also found out from Pete's Twitter that T-Mobile released an upgrade for my phone to Windows Mobile 6.

Twitter is changing blogging (and my already unsafe drive to work). However, I'm going to try as long as possible to resist moving from blog posts to short Twitter messages (which, I'm noticing, have a rather low signal to noise ratio). That said, each has its uses.. still figuring out what those are for me.

As a sidenote, Facebook has the best designed mobile site I've ever seen. They truly get what info and features is useful on the go, and what isn't. Their interface is littered with examples -- here's one.. when you accept a friend request from your phone, they don't bother you by asking for friend details. Instead, next time you sign in to the site from a PC, there's an unobtrusive reminder in the right-hand column where you can add friend details for the friend request you accepted while on the go. Smart.

Also tried Joost this morning. Very slick.

Update: Get your Joost invite here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I can't remember the last time I felt truly overwhelmed. This week so far has been a whirlwind in every way. For the last 36 hours I've been in Las Vegas at the MIX conference. I expected to come out here and learn about the latest and greatest in web technologies. I've learned. But what I've experienced has been more of an emotional high and rollercoaster.

Maybe the pictures tell it best. I just got back from the Facebook party at the Playboy club at the Palms, where the top shelf liquor flowed like tap water, as it has just about everywhere I've stepped foot in the last 36 hours of the 72 hour "conversation". MySpace's party is tomorrow night, and I shudder to think about showing up only to pawn off a surpluss of Ketel Red Bulls and Patron shots on others yet again.

Vegas is insane as ever. The fake blue skies of the Venetian canal shops make it feel like it's perpetually late afternoon, as we finish our dinner and step out of yet another Wolfgang Puck restaurant around 11pm at night to head over to the next party.

As usual, I'm blown away by the smallness of the world. "Oh, you know so-and-so?", the conversation goes as I rub shoulders with the whose who of the web 2.0 elite. That guy I just met was Evan who? He started Blogger and Twitter? Wow.

Part of me is having fun. Part of me feels I don't fit in. And part of me is wondering how I'm gonna explain this to my boss and wondering what the hell I'm doing here.